MESSAGES & MAGIC:
100 YEARS OF COLLAGE AND ASSEMBLAGE IN AMERICAN ART
September 28, 2008–January 25, 2009
Jonathan Schipper, 215 Points of View, Steel, 215 monitors and cameras, and rubber.
Messages & Magic is an unprecedented exhibition that traces American popular culture through a century of collage and assemblage—art forms that have captivated both internationally renowned and virtually unknown self-taught, folk, and academically trained artists. These artists have discovered that recognizable imagery and objects extracted from shared culture inherently carry powerful associations and meanings, in ways which entirely hand-rendered objects cannot. Akin to popular culture itself, their art reaches across social and cultural boundaries. Folk idioms such as memory jugs and friendship canes are situated as part of a continuum that some 100 years later developed into electronic works.
Collage, as an artistic term, did not exist before modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began to play with the idea that meaning itself is dependent on a viewer’s understanding of what is seen. Yet long before modern artists and the surrealists made collage their favorite domain, there were creative thinkers such as Charles A. A. Dellschau (1830–1923) who used images and headlines clipped from newspapers to lend veracity to his colorful painted and drawn chronicles of early twentieth-century aircraft. Folk-carver Bert Ohnstad (1892–1979) spent 50 years embedding tiny mementos into his friendship cane, using objects such as a Rotary pin, a Scottie dog charm, and an eagle mascot pin from the Fifteenth Wisconsin Regiment of the Civil War to chart the people he had met and the places he had been
For artists like Henry Darger (1892–1973), Martín Ramírez (1895–1963), and James Castle (1899–1977), familiar imagery became a way to hold on to aspects of fractured identities. On the other hand, Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) and Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) literally transformed the familiar by rearranging the world we think we know. As popular culture became increasingly marked by images and objects that could reach across boundaries of race, class, gender, and locale, artists responded by utilizing such items in their art even more. With a broad range of intentions and results, trained and self-taught alike have come to incorporate familiar imagery into works of art as a common touchstone.
BOOK: Messages & Magic: 100 Years of Collage and Assemblage In American Art